This varied anthology is guaranteed to make the reader think. Poetry, prose and art rub shoulders with interesting analysis, while a sensible appreciation of an essay by philosopher Bertrand Russell makes the cut.
Austerity provides the context for the book. But the grimness of reality does not submerge the creativity of the writers in question. Of course, the individuals involved in the project have literary influences, but they have pulled together something new.
Not everyone will be pleased by the result. People who worship authority may not enjoy the reading experience. Equally, critics who are wedded to political correctness might not appreciate each piece of work in the collection.
However, it should be remembered that real political correctness is a form of courtesy. It is all about extending politeness to groups which suffer from disadvantage. Political correctness should not be used to limit artistic expression unless there is likely to be genuine social harm. Therefore this colourful text will not offend any freethinking person.
“Patriots are a bit nuts in the head
because they wear
red, white and blue-
(red for blood
white for glory
and blue …
for a boy)
and are in effervescent danger
of losing their lives
lives are good for you”
Patriotism, nationalism and imperialism have revived in new forms since the financial crash of 2007 to 2009. The central dream of neoliberalism, a border-free world which is made smooth for the development of capitalism, is not being made real. Globalisation is not being powered by technological progress in the simplistic fashion which was once envisaged.
While patriotism cannot be challenged at the level of discourse alone, it makes sense to question it more assertively than normal. The crudity of ethnocentric populism cannot go unremarked. Brexit and the Trump presidency have underscored the responsibility of socialists and liberals to speak up.
Politics and poetry can be uneasy bedfellows. However, all poetry is political in a sense. Even a love poem is composed in a context which shapes its conventions. Roger McGough was part of The Mersey Sound and his lack of respect for authority was underlined by Why Patriots are a Bit Nuts in the Head. The sentiment of the poem is captured in the excerpt above. While the message tails off in the latter stages of the work, the refreshing tone makes the poem worthy of appreciation. Political correctness had not been thought of when the poem was constructed and this means that aspects of the content must not be taken seriously. Feminists might not enjoy reading poetry like this, but half a century ago gender relations in the UK were unfortunately somewhat different than they are now.
This classic text is unlikely to have been read by Donald Trump. Many affluent men perceive women as trophies to be won, but the President of the United States is particularly prone to judge a book by its cover. However, Wolf shows that this cultural trend has an economic base.
We all know about the injustice of the gender pay gap. We all appreciate that men typically shirk their share of chores. But lots of us forget the full extent of the pressure exerted on females to look their best. This force breeds unnecessary competition. Furthermore, it means that substantial discretionary spending is wasted on keeping up appearances.
Perhaps Wolf was slightly too passionate at times. Maddened by the social disasters of anorexia and unnecessary plastic surgery in the United States, she did make an unfortunate comparison with the Holocaust. Nevertheless, the author did produce a compelling argument. She was generous towards other feminists and paid a warm tribute to Virginia Woolf:
“Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own had a vision that someday young women would have access to the rich forbidden libraries of the men’s colleges, their sunken lawns, their vellum, the claret light.”
Radio can take the listener to troubling places. The Dark Tower by Louis MacNeice is a journey worth taking. Combining the psychological and the political, the play raises existential questions. A dark humour can be discerned, but a seriousness is never absent.
It is no coincidence that Albert Camus wrote La Peste in the same historical period. Both writers were trying to come to terms with the ruin of Europe. They were concerned with what fascism had done to people. Neither thinker was dogmatic, but both individuals were unable to leave politics to politicians.
MacNeice was a poet who understood that certainty could be a terrible thing. His ambivalence was one of his strengths. And yet he could not feel isolated from the political fray. He knew that leaving history to its own devices could cost the world. His message resonates in the era of Trump, Brexit and casino capitalism.
” hello all the new bones
hello all the old
hello all the everything
Style and substance can be a formidable combination. In literature, most novelists achieve some kind of a balance between the two. However poetic writers can be light in terms of their content because their readers will make allowances for them. This text of two halves tests this theory to its limits.
The first narrative is situated in the Google Maps present of Sky News weather presenters. It is quite a moving tale, which bubbles with verisimilitude. The reader is never bored, but occasionally a feeling of being manipulated does arise. Gratitude for the entertainment provided does derive primarily from the style of Smith.
The second story about an artist totters over the brink. Pretentiousness oozes from the text, while ennui starts to flow from a slackening pace. Art about art is not original and there seems to be some special kind of credibility gap. Nevertheless, Smith perseveres gamely to the end, secure in the faith which her remarkable style lends her.
This odd book about an odd man employed an eccentric technique to generate a thought-provoking biography. John Worthen leaned heavily on the diaries of Virginia Woolf to defend the reputation of her celebrated friend. Her antipathy to the wife of T.S. Eliot means that the great poet has a really sympathetic portrayal.
Relying too much on the brilliant Woolf as a witness has its risks. Her own instability means that she may not have been the most consistent judge of character. And her literary elitism could have led her to a bias towards the conservative American. Further, she might well have been afraid, jealous or resentful of others who occupied the sick role she shared.
Fortunately, Worthen was aware of the limitations of his effort. Like Eliot, he knew that “No one can be understood.” As a result, those who appreciate poetry can turn back to fragments of the poems:
“And I…must borrow every changing shape
To find expression- dance dance
Dance like a dancing bear,
Whistle like a parrot, chatter like an ape;
Let us take the air, in a tobacco trance.”
Jeremy Corbyn has clearly realised the power of the poem. At Glastonbury, he harnessed Shelley to inspire his audience. While the Conservative Party has been slow to form an awkward coalition with the DUP, the Labour leader has been quick to communicate his message of hope with large numbers of people.
It is uncertain if Corbyn will ever ascend to the summit of politics in the UK. However, he has already confounded a great many of his critics. Along the way, he has revealed a love of reading. His passion for Joyce made several people sit up.
If governing is a prosaic activity, does it have to be a fraudulent one? Is it possible for politicians to craft narratives which will take us to a fairer future? Will we continue to be led by Machiavellian monsters like Trump and Putin? The art of political studies is to live in the world of the possible. This does not mean we should be cynical, defeatist or neutral. Nonetheless, it does imply we must avoid making predictions.